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How it all started

February 14, 2023
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AGS Trainee - Joshua Tranter

AGS Trainee - Joshua Tranter

Insight into the first month as AGS Trainee – January 2023

Welcome to the first entry in my new diary. This is where you will be able to see what I get up to during my 18 months as an Alpine Garden Society Trainee. I have always had a soft spot for alpines, and I wanted to learn more and specialise in them, which is why I applied for this great opportunity. After my application was successful, I left my previous job at Ashwood Nurseries. I had been working there for the past four and half years in John Massey’s private garden.

The traineeship is an 18-month programme funded by the Alpine Garden Society. My main placement will be at the Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh (RBGE). The programme will also give me the chance to work at various other gardens and nurseries in the UK and abroad.

During my traineeship, I will also need to complete a research project. I have chosen to learn more about the cultivation of the genus Fritillaria. I will pick five Fritillaria species to focus my attention on.

Each month I will be picking a plant genus as the highlight of the month and I will write plant profiles to familiarise myself with the nomenclature and cultivation. Galanthus is the genus I have chosen this month.

Sowing seeds of Notothlaspi rosulatum

Sowing seeds of Notothlaspi rosulatum

Potting shed

We have been busy in the potting shed sowing seeds. I rather like this task as I get the chance to delve in the freezers, finding seed from various plant expeditions from around the world, collected over the years. The pots of seeds have all gone outside in a raised frame. Cold temperatures during the remaining winter days will help with germination.

Overwintering pots of seeds in raised frames at RBGE

Overwintering pots of seeds in raised frames at RBGE

The RBGE have a large collection of Primula allionii cultivars. These will flower soon and they will be moved into the alpine display house in the coming weeks. We are making our way through the collection, picking plants over and removing dead foliage to tidy them up. This gives me the chance to get up close to each plant, looking out for pests and diseases. Removing dead foliage is rather fiddly tweezer work. However, it is satisfying when you complete a plant and move on to the next. While repotting a few Primulas, Scott noticed that root aphid was lurking. This was dealt with by slowly teasing away the majority of the loose compost and soaking the plants roots in a bucket of SP invigorator.

Drilling holes in tufa - credit AGS Trainee Joshua Tranter

Drilling holes in tufa

AGS Trainee Joshua Tranter helps with the new tufa bed

Tufa is a form of limestone, mainly consisting of calcium and magnesium carbonate. A highly porous rock, it provides an ideal substrate and naturalistic landscape for growing alpines. In 2022, a new raised bed was built behind the scenes at RBGE. Here Dionysias will be planted into tufa boulders. We marked out over 50 areas on the tufa rock to be drilled for planting holes.

Tufa rocks ready to be planted

Tufa rocks ready to be planted

Aaron and myself were then let loose with a rather large drill. We got to work drilling holes into the tufa. We collected all the tufa dust, it will be used within the mix when we plant the Dionysias in the near future.

Tufa dust

Tufa dust

Alpine House Display

Every Friday at RBGE we change the display in the Alpine House. We choose plants which are looking good in the cold frames and bring them out to the display house, for weekend visitors to enjoy.

As the snowdrop season is in full swing and the RBGE take part in the Scottish Snowdrop Festival, we picked out various pots of varieties which we loaded up into crates and took to the display house. Snowdrops are the main focal point at this time of year. To emphasise this we created a drift of 35 different varieties of Galanthus spread along the length of the entire display bed. It’s a great way to get up close at eye level and see the characteristics of each variety.

Alpine display house at RBGE - credit AGS Trainee Joshua Tranter

Alpine display house at RBGE - credit Joshua Tranter

Once we had a rough layout of a drift of Galanthus we added various other plants around that are of interest at this time of year, such as gymnospermums, Cyclamen, Crocus, Iris and many others. When placing plants we carefully considered colour combinations throughout the display, working from hot colours to cooler plants. Once all plants were laid out and we were happy with the result, we finished by plunging the pots into the sand.

Plunging is important as it helps with temperature and moisture control. At the same time it helps to prevent roots from freezing during the winter months while keeping them cooler during the summer.

Crevice bed

Crevice gardens were first developed in the Czech Republic. They are a great way of miniaturising an alpine landscape to fit in a garden. I am looking forward to attending the Czech international rock garden conference in May this year. It will be a good opportunity to hear some fantastic lectures and to visit many renowned crevice gardens and meet many great people.

Crevice beds at RBGE looked after by Aaron Marshall and Jim Jermyn

Crevice beds at RBGE looked after by Aaron Marshall and Jim Jermyn

This month, we have spent a few days working on the large crevice bed in the alpine yard. In preparation for spring we tidied up plants and pulled out any stray weeds. We printed off lists of plants and checked all plants were labelled, at the same time removing any labels where plants no longer exist. We recorded the changes and updated the Iris database. I enjoyed this task as I was working with Aaron Marshall and Jim Jermyn.

It was a great way to familiarise myself with alpine plants and their names. I spent time looking at distinguishing features and identifying unnamed plants we came across. As Jim has done a lot of travelling, he told us where and in which conditions plants grow in the wild, along with many fascinating stories.

Learn how to create your own crevice garden Product The Crevice Garden, A Bold Aesthetic for Adventurous Gardeners by Kenton Seth, Paul Spriggs A crevice garden replicates the environmental conditions ...
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Plants of interest

Adonis amurensis ‘Chichibu Beni’ 

A member of the Ranunculaceae family. Chichibu is a city in central Japan and Beni means red.

Adonis amurensis 'Chichibu Beni' - credit AGS Trainee Joshua Tranter

Adonis amurensis 'Chichibu Beni'

Galanthus lagodechianus

A species which comes from high altitude locations. Altitudes from 1800 to 2400 metres the sub alpine area in Caucasus mountains range from Asia, Europe the Middle East.

Galanthus lagodechianus credit AGS Trainee Joshua Tranter

Galanthus lagodechianus in flower at RBGE

Crocus gargaricus

An intense vivid flower origin is damp pastures in western Turkey with altitudes of around 1300m to 2000m.


Crocus gargaricus

Crocus gargaricus

As a charity, the AGS supports the development of knowledge and skills in the alpine field by funding the AGS Trainee Scheme. During the 18 month placement, the successful candidate has the opportunity to work at various horticultural institutions (such as RBG Edinburgh, RBG Kew, RHS Garden Harlow Carr, RSPB Haweswater Nature Reserve and the AGS Garden at Pershore). The work includes maintaining and enhancing the alpine plant collections in all the gardens as well as management of plant records. At RSPB Haweswater the trainee with help with conservation work.